By Ted Cheatham
Time: 30 – 60 minutes
When I think of Solitaire, the tarot card reader from the “Live and Let Die” James Bond film readily comes to mind. Putting that aside, playing some version of a one player game with a standard deck of cards would be next in line for the mental image. Today, we will look at three games from Victory Point Games that are designed specifically for one player; Disaster on Everest, Nemo’s War, and Legions of Darkness.
Please rest assured that I have played a lot of solitaire games in my time going way back to the old Avalon Hill days. I have spend hours getting aircraft readied for a launch from an aircraft carrier, fought tank battles with Patton, raided during the Civil War with Mosby, bombed Germany in WWII, launched aerial assaults in the Middle East, and fought platoon ambushes in WWII to name a few. To date, I have sold almost all of my old solitaire games.
To me, solitaire gaming is a rarity. It is filler and not something that will regularly hit the table. The mood has to be right. Most importantly for a solitaire game to work for me it must meet a few key criteria. First, the rules have to be straight forward and remember able. Once the game has started you do not want to have to keep referencing the rule book. The game Carrier suffered from to much realism and a very daunting rule book that made the game tedious. Second, the game has to drive action and reaction so that you feel a challenge and a risk. Hornet Leader simulates this with the various events at the target area. Finally, the game has to give you the feeling that you want to really try it again sometime. B-17 did this for me as I built my crew and watched them try to get their 25 missions. Each mission faced new challenges and many times one of my friends did not make it back alive.
So, without too much further ado, here are some thoughts on these new solitaire games.
All of these games are zip lock baggie games. Boards and cards and tables are all on card stock and the chits are punch out cardboard like the old Avalon Hill stuff, not the clean glossy cutouts you see in newer euro games. The components are functional and the full color rule books are clear and well organized.
Disaster on Everest.
In Disaster on Everest, you represent one of four exotic travel companies that come with two guides and seven clients that are paying you big bucks to help them assault Mt. Everest. Each team, in theory, gives you a different challenge as each climber has unique abilities, clients have different movement levels and, in the advanced game, the clients have abilities that can be good or bad.
The game is played through two phases, the clear phase or storm watch phase and then the storm phase in this sequence.
- Draw an event – This is the key driver to the game which adds the challenge and the risk. A lot of bad things can happen here to hamper your best laid plans. Ridges can be closed (halting some movement), ropes can break, or potentially you can find some equipment, etc. You start the climb with 18 prestige points. As events come out, you may “buy” them with prestige to keep them from being placed on the storm watch track. They vary in cost from 1 – 3 prestige points causing you to manage your prestige. If six events are placed on the storm watch track, the storm begins and you should begin a rapid descent with your clients before disaster strikes. It is not called Disaster on Everest for no reason.
- Move your Team – This part of the game is very much like a puzzle. How can you most efficiently move your climbers given the existing circumstances in the turn? Do I work to get one or two climbers to the summit for big victory points at the expense of others who languish on the lower slopes? Here is how the movement works before the storm:
- Move 2 guides (with or without clients) or,
- Move 1 guide (with or without clients) and then 2 clients, or
- Move 4 clients
The guides move faster than clients and have two abilities (expert climber, fast climber, etc.) and can drag clients along. If you have a client with a movement of zero, they must go with a guide. Time is precious so, each turn you must compute your best use of movement for the circumstances on the mountain.
Once the storm arrives, everything changes. You must develop a new movement strategy. Guides lose their abilities and are limited to two movement and clients are limited to one space movement unless they start their move on a space where a guide just ended their movement. In this case, they may move their full movement value.
- Resolve the Hillary Step Queue – The part of the game represents the part of the mountain where things jamb up. Some die rolling is involved to move people through the queue with the potential of delaying your assault for the top. This queue affects the team going up and coming down the mountain. However, there are some great victory points to getting your clients to this point.
- End of turn – This is the clean up phase where you clear markers and prepare for the next turn.
The game ends when the 10th event is placed on the storm track. In my game, I used all of my prestige to hold off the storm as long as possible. Once the storm hit, it was 10 turns to get off the mountain. Needless to say, if you are doing a pretty good job of getting folks up the mountain, it is tough to get them all off in 10 turns with the new movement allowances. Anyone left on the mountain gets a random chit draw to see if they survive. The higher up the mountain, the less the chance for survival.
Each client has a number of victory points you will gain by getting them to the Hillary Step or the summit. You lose points if people die. At the end you count your victory points to determine if you have had a major defeat or a major victory.
This game meets my solitaire game criteria very well. I really enjoyed the game and can see this one staying in the collection for a while. It has a quick four page rule book and a reference card that you really don’t need once you get going with your team. I would get my climbers and guides ready for the next great move only to get an event with a ridge closed that I could not pass. To take advantage of the situation though, I could move climbers higher up the hill and managed to get two of them to the summit. There are four different teams to try and advanced rules for some extra complexity if you want it.
Rating: I like it
The six page rule book makes this one the most complex of the three solitaire games in this article. This one is a labor of love set in the universe of Jules Verne’s 20,000 League Under the Sea. You will take on the role of Captain Nemo with one of four mission commitments; science, exploration, anti-imperialism, or war.
This game has a large very clear player map with most information right at hand to keep you out of the rules for game play. The board is ceded with many face down ships and tokens for various tracks. The card deck is set up with a variable end card near the bottom of the deck. You, as Captain Nemo select a strategy the game; war, anti-imperialism, exploration, or science and begin the game in two steps:
- Preparation – This is the phase of the game that drives the game play and the artificial intelligence for the game. A roll of two dice will determine several things. First, you will add ships to the oceans that match the number on each die if possible. Important safety tip; if this fills up the last ocean on the board, you lose. With doubles you have the option to add treasure to an ocean and affect the imperial track. Finally, you see if you can get an adventure card. The adventure rotates from needing a 10+ total to a 7+ total and stays there until you successfully get a card which flips it back to the 10+ side. I seemed to get a card every 2-3 turns. Cards are the events that occurred in the book and can be good for you or can be tests you must pass or fail. Passing tests is good for victory points and mission goals at the end of the game.
- One Nemo Action – Once the game finishes dealing with you, it is your turn to act.
- Rest – Roll a die on 5 or 6 to gain a crew
- Repair – Gain one hull
- Refit – Allows you to cash in trophy ships you have captured to upgrade your powers or ship
- Incite – Influence the Liberation Track. This is of value for the Anit-imperialism or War strategy
- Search – Roll a die and search for treasure in your current ocean
- Move – Allows the Nautilus to move to a new ocean on the board. Some oceans cost a week’s time to move
- Stalk – gives you increased combat strength to combat a ship
- Attack – take out some ships in your ocean
The game progresses in this fashion until the end game card is drawn, you reach 52 weeks of time, all oceans are filled with ships, or you sink. You score victory points for Warships, other ships, adventures, Treasure, Liberation, Science, Wonders, and how well you have kept your ship and crew together. The points for each of these items will vary based on your strategy.
After calculation of your victory points you will fall somewhere between utter failure and triumph.
I must confess that I lost my first game by the oceans filling up with boats. For the life of me I could not figure out how to stop it. Then, I found the rule that allowed me to continue attacking if I win a combat. This helps a lot. Now, I have not played enough to validate a nagging thought I have. You can concentrate on a mission but, there are a lot of random things going on. So, I felt like I was heading in a direction, but did not have a lot of control to get me there. And, regardless of the mission you choose you are going to have to sink ships. This is a core of the game. It scores points and helps you upgrade. Plus you need to keep the oceans from getting full. Sinking ships came down to rolling dice and comparing modifiers. Yes, you can make decisions and risks to improve die rolls (which you really have to do to roll some of those high numbers) however; it started to feel like a repetitive dice rolling game for me after 15 minutes. I can see people enjoying this theme and pushing their crew and balancing victory conditions. The game builds over time as you gain notoriety and time passes as more reinforcements are added. There was just not enough for me to come back to this one.
Legions of Darkness
This game feels like solitaire Defenders of the Realm or Castle Panic. Monsters are converging at the castle walls from four tracks trying to breach your castle walls. If you can survive until nightfall on the third day, you will be victorious.
This game has a six page rule book but, much of it is summarized on a player aid card. The game has a couple of scenarios that allow you to vary difficulty. And, you set up with random heroes to defend your castle with two types of magic for casting spells. Here is how it works.
- Card phase – this is the intelligence for the game. Draw day cards in the day time and night cards in the night time.
The card above gives you the outline of play for the turn. From the top down:
- Monster’s advance. Here the gate track, the east track, and the sky track monsters mover closer to the castle
- An event, if any, occurs.
- Player actions. This card shows 3 normal actions and 2 heroic actions.
- The final icon at the bottom of the card is to advance the timer track.
Some cards have quests listed on them as well which may help you if you are successful.
- Actions – this is where you get to act as the defender of the castle and may take the number of actions listed on the card for this turn. You can build barricades, range combat, melee combat, try to increase magic strength, gain magic cards, etc. Heroic events are for your heroes, obviously.
Magic in the game is one time use and you need to have the amount of magical power available to play the card. Most of the combat is pure dice rolling trying to beat the number of the monster that is advancing to the castle.
You play on until the castle is breached or you survive until the night of the third day. It is interesting that not all cards drawn advance the time marker.
This is a very brief description of the game. There are many tokens and powers and each hero has unique skills. The reference card is very helpful to keep you attuned to the game. This game had a brief feel of Chainsaw Warrior to me. Turn over a card and deal with it. Dealing with it typically means roll some dice and see what happens. There is a little more planning here, however. You can fortify your castle, work on your magic capacity, and make some longer range build up at the sacrifice of monsters advancing toward the castle walls a little too close for comfort. So, if you like the fantasy theme with die rolling combat, this will fit your needs nicely. It may over stay its welcome if you are not careful to keep the game moving.
Rating: I Like it
So, there you have some solitaire activities for your next rainy day when you cannot find some gamers to keep you company. Each of these games will appeal to different styles of gamers for various reasons. If I had to rate these three in order, they would be:
1st – Disaster on Everest
2nd –Legions of Darkness
3rd – Nemo’s War